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Slow down, puzzle more

| Friday, January 20, 2017

It’s a common trope, at least in my experience, for reporters to inquire about the downtime hobbies of their celebrity interviewees. You see it all over the internet, in articles and video clips: to unwind, Oprah will occasionally shut herself in her closet in the middle of the work day to collect her thoughts. When she’s not out partying or filming with Ilana Glazer, Abbi Jacobson paints quirky pictures of hamburgers. President Barack Obama reads books.

I think the theme stems from the desire of reporters to humanize the stars (to quote People magazine, they’re just like us!), and simultaneously capitalizes on audiences’ enthusiasm to peek into the daily routine of the rich and famous. The idea of the women and men we see on billboards kicking off their shoes at the end of the day and completing their own calming rituals comforts us, a reminder that the human need for periodic rejuvenation is a universal one.

I thought a lot about the soothing effect of these hobbies like these over break. Coming out of a semester where time seemed to hurtle forward at warp speed, I needed slow. At my grandparents’ house in South Dakota, I sat in the living room and picked at couch cushions, aimlessly leafing through a book, still halfway unsure how to relax after scrambling to finish the past semester. Time crawled.

Enter my little brother Patrick, sitting quietly across from me in the living room. He’s not a celebrity now, but who knows? Maybe someday. He’s smart, with an encyclopedic memory and a lightning-fast wit, capable of throwing out a hilarious comeback quicker than I can respond. As I fidget on the couch, Pat is focused on nothing but the puzzle in front of him. It’s a map of the world – an impressive 4,000 pieces, spread out evenly across the table. As I watch, he puts Namibia in place and moves over to the Arctic Ocean, scanning the board for familiar shapes and colors.

At age 14-almost-15, Pat is something of a puzzle connoisseur. Obama has presidential biographies; Patrick McGreevy has puzzles. In our living room at home, one of the most common fixtures is the half-completed puzzle on the coffee table, usually with Pat bent over it, intently putting it together. He puzzles steadily and methodically. Too much puzzling can sometimes wear people out — for reference, Google “competitive puzzling” — but Pat doesn’t get bored.

Inspired by his intensity and with nothing better to do, I did puzzles with Pat this break, and now I think I can make the case for puzzles as self-care. Puzzling is contemplative and orderly — close to meditative. It’s soothing and satisfying to put all of the pieces in the place and watch the larger picture emerge. In that sense, it’s emblematic of all of the little self-care rituals we do as humans, celebrities and eighth graders alike: small things that put pieces of our lives and minds into place.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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